Reaction to the Withdrawal – Part II

A Chicken

When I was 12 years old, I found myself on the deck of my parents’ house one Sabbath evening. We lived in the countryside and at that time we had a few free-range chickens who somehow managed to survive outside the coop. This one particular evening, we had guests inside the house. It was warm and well-lit and everybody seemed to be having a very good time. I guess the chicken thought the party was very inviting because it was watching my family and our guests intently through the sliding glass door.

For my part, I was watching the chicken.

I watched as the chicken kinda’ shifted its head this way and that, as chickens do. And then it proceeded forward. Deliberately, slowly, it walked straight into the glass door. I heard a little “buuuk.”

The bird, surprised, stumbled backwards, went back to where it had started and decided to try again.

This time, it trotted towards the door. When it met the glass it kind of bounced off. The “BUUK!” was more pronounced. But the chicken wasn’t deterred. It shook itself off, examined the glass through each eye and then went back to the starting line.

The third time, it just ran at the glass.

With a huge impact (at least for such a little bird) it smashed into the door.

And then, on teetering legs, it sort of stumbled away.

It had realized it had failed. Along the way what little brains it had seemed to have been scrambled.

I bring up this story because it reminds me of every one of the players in the latest round of Israel’s war with Hamas. All of us are operating from the same play book. All of us are running into the same glass door. And all of us are failing to achieve anything of value. Instead, after each round of conflict, we are kind of stumbling away, no smarter than we were before.

The stories we tell ourselves afterwards differ. Israel tends to focus on how it was defeated, Hamas on how it was victorious and the Americans on how nobody seems to listen to their great ideas. Nonetheless, every one of us keeps doing the same thing – it just hurts more every time.

The thing is, we don’t need to be that chicken. We have the capability for truly creative thought. We have the capability to find new approaches to problems. At this time, when Israel, Hamas and the US have all run at their respective doors, it is critical that do things differently than we have before.

Pax Americana

In the first part of this article, I wrote about the terrible cost borne by the United States as a result of its failure to protect its allies. Local translators and collaborators were left behind in Afghanistan. Sunni tribes were abandoned to Iranian-sponsored domination in Iraq (which helped spawn ISIS). Ukrainians have been left largely disarmed against a relentless Russian attack. With their latest abandonment of Israel, despite knowing the costs of an attack on Gaza from the outset, the United States has demonstrated that it is consistent only in its inconsistency. Of course, the US does not have an obligation to throw its considerable might into any one of these conflicts. The error is in weighing in and then not doing its best to protect those who rely on its word.

At this point, the damage from these four foreign policy failures cannot simply be reversed by another administration. Not only did prior administrations and both parties play their role in these failures, but the US itself is weaker. The exponentially growing national debts (including unfunded liabilities) have reached almost 160 trillion dollars. Combined with a cultural decline reflected in a drug death rate that is more than double that of any other nation, the U.S. is in a dangerous spiral. As a result, alliance with the US, whether you are Polish or Taiwanese, will become an increasingly transactional affair. The effects, in the face of violent, supremacist and expansionist regimes in China, Iran and Russia, could well be catastrophic. Already, war deaths since 2021 have increased 250% from their post-Cold War averages (the war in Gaza represents approximately 10% of that global toll).

At the end of that article, I promised that there was hope for the future. That hope requires thinking differently about where you want to go and how you can expect to get there.

Greater X, Greater Y

At present, the visions of Russia, China and Iran are clear. They want to relive past glories and rebuild what I call Greater X – whether it is Greater China, Greater Russia or Greater Persia. This is a fundamentally destructive vision. I’ve had Chinese people explain to me that Hungary is part of Greater China because the Mongols conquered it once. One can’t help but imagine that this concept would interfere with both Russian and Iranian ideas of their proper place in the world. The Greater X story is a source of evil and destruction. It necessarily leads to conflict and does less than nothing to enhance the human story.

There is another concept of ‘Greater’, though. I call it Greater Y. Greater Y is a concept not of power, but of influence. While Greater Athens did indeed control some territory, the true impact of Classical Athens was expressed through their culture. Their ideas influenced the Macedonians, and through the Macedonians they became a fundamental cultural touchstone of the ancient world – one that ran from Spain to India. Athenian forces never controlled North Africa or Afghanistan. Nonetheless, Athenian ideas ended up changing the concept of what it meant to be human in both of those places. Greater Athens was not about territory, but about ideas. The legacy of Aristotle is far grander than that of Alexander the Great.

There have been others who have had outsized and positive impacts on humanity. In the midst of the brutal 30 Years War, in which 30% of Europe’s population died in religious conflict, Amsterdam provided a way out. Amsterdam demonstrated the power of tolerance and become not only a leading city but the vanguard of a new idea about the relationship between religions. West Berlin, a Potemkin City, provided a vision for Eastern Europe. It played a significant role in bringing down the Soviet Union without a shot being fired. Hong Kong was a role model for economic freedom; it ended up transforming a China that had suffered up to 80 million dead in their pursuit of Communist purity.

The United States itself, despite its great sins of slavery and the crushing of native populations, also had a ‘Greater’ impact. Long before the World Wars, the example of the U.S. Constitution (in a way an echo of Classical Athenian lessons) helped to redefine what was possible in a democracy. It changed societies around the globe.

There are also lesser-known examples such as the bottom-up government demonstrated by early Icelandic parliaments, and the concept of the rule of law pushed forward by the Constitution of Melfi established by Norman kings in Sicily.

‘Greater’ Hong Kong, ‘Greater’ Amsterdam, ‘Greater’ Athens, ‘Greater’ West Berlin were not about territorial gains, but about the spread of uplifting ideas. Perhaps the single most effective personal example of the relative impacts of Greater X and Greater Y was in the person of Francis Bacon. His Greater X was as the Lord High Chancellor of England under James I. His Greater Y was as one of the key individuals behind the development of the concept of the Scientific Method.

I think it is clear which of his dual lives was the more impactful.

In the case of political entities, the Greater Y examples were almost exclusively developed within compact, almost city-scale, polities. The development and practical application of these ideas requires a flexibility and dynamism that rarely exists on the large-state level. It is not accident that the city state has long been the ideal breeding ground for cultural and political innovation.

All of this is important because the future is deeply threatened by the Greater X concept. Just as the great fascist and communist expansions of the early 20th century, Greater X concepts embodied by Russia, Iran and China threaten the 21st century. Each of these nations is characterized by a concept of ethnic domination and ideological intolerance. Together they represent the greatest threat to the free world since the end of the Cold War.

With the decline of the U.S. as a reliable ally of freedom (and those who love freedom), there is a desperate need for a counterweight. But there is no replacement for the United States. There is no other arsenal of freedom. The entire EU, with 450 million citizens, has fewer than 2 million soldiers. Russia, Iran and China have over 6 million. Iran’s partner militias alone may number over 180,000 – a larger force than any single European country but France and the UK. Yes, the technological capability of these forces lags that of the Europeans and Americans, but with the rise of cheap drones, AI and increasingly inexpensive electronics, the playing field is not as unlevel as it once was. Consider that approximately 70,000 Taliban fighters defeated the United States and their well-equipped allied Afghan forces.

Even through Russia and China are aging rapidly – and thus seeing a diminishing number of young men they can send off to war – their potential geopolitical competition is as well. The average age in Russia is 40 and the average age in China is 38. Compared with a global average life expectancy of 32 in 1900, these are not young populations. Nonetheless, the average age of Europeans is over 44.

Can you bring a walker to battle?

A fourth force of unfreedom is that is Sunni Islamism. ISIS is spreading across Africa and recently conducted effective attacks in Russia. The average age of the world’s two billion Muslims is only 24. Should either Islamists or Iranian sympathizers garner wider support in this population, they will be able to call upon a population in their physical prime.

The threat of Greater X is growing and there is no great Empire of Freedom coming to the rescue.

Singapore on the Med

There are, however, ideological competitors that can undermine the philosophies and ambitions of even the most aggressive of nations. Examples include Singapore, the UAE, Israel, Rwanda and Taiwan. Aside from Taiwan, each as a population of 10 million or fewer. Taiwan is under 25 million. Each of these countries is a regional leader in demonstrating the power of the rule of law. Each is, in its own way, an ideological powerhouse capable of transforming the world around them. Finally, each is fundamentally threatened by massive surrounding populations that have completely incompatible aspirations.

Brought together, these small states could provide a cookbook of freedom. The UAE’s understanding of Islamic culture and religion could be united with Singapore’s effective tools for minimizing corruption and enabling a sense of citizen investment in the society. Rwanda’s tools for tamping down ethnic conflict could be fused with those of Singapore. Lessons from Taiwan’s transition to democracy from autocracy could be paired with lessons from Israel’s transition from a state-focused economy to one that is free and dynamic. Finally, Israel’s religious toleration – as a country that enables Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Druze, Bahai and other forms of worship – could serve as a model for what is now a Hamas-controlled theocratic autocracy.

The mere presence of these examples does not provide a roadmap for building a ‘Singapore on the Med’. If that were the case, such a city would have developed after Israel’s withdrawal in 2005. The development of a society as one defined by the rule of law must take into account several critical factors involving both the people and the location involved.

External Forces

First and foremost, and most controversially, such a project must be imposed by external forces. Governing Palestinian bodies, including both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have been given ample opportunity and resources to build a civil society capable of peace with Israel. Neither has made progress in that direction. Palestinian society suffers from terrible graft and corruption as well as routine extra-legal violence.

Those who favor nation-building often note that there have been several examples in which external forces have successfully reshaped societies under occupation. These people often point to Germany and Japan. Once the power structures of the Meiji Restoration were suppressed, it was possible to drastically reshape Japanese society. The same was true with the suppression of Nazism in Germany. In both cases, extreme measures were critical. For example, the US and UK both actively starved the civilian population of Germany in order to suppress their will to fight.

However, these examples are not appropriate to Gaza. Both Germany and Japan had highly ordered and fully developed civil societies – with the rule of law – prior to occupation. In Germany, for example, only 50% of Jews were killed during the war (as compared with 99% in Lithuania). The reason was that even the Nazi government had to overcome legal obstacles in order to exterminate the population. For example, they couldn’t conduct mass executions on German soil. Instead, they only had the legal right to deport the Jewish population to Poland. In Poland, which lacked a functioning legal system, it was then possible to conduct the campaign of extermination.

Given this, the role of the Allied occupation forces was not to implant a civic sense or to create a fertile ground for the rule of law. Instead, it was more simply to replace the Nazi and Meiji legal realities with something new. That task was far simpler. The ground was already fertile for a law-based society. Attempts to carry out similar tasks in Afghanistan and Iraq floundered in part because the task was far more difficult than it had been after World War II – even if the Coalition forces had been willing to conduct a campaign as harsh as what they carried out in Germany.

Instead of Germany and Japan, the appropriate archetype for the external imposition of a civil society is Hong Kong. Hong Kong had a population of about 6,000 when the British took control in 1841. By the 1865 census, the population had risen to 125,000 and then 1.6 million by 1941. Under Japanese occupation, the city shrank to 600,000 by 1945. However, by 1951, it had grown past all previous records and reached a population of 2 million people. The British inherited a largely unpopulated area. It grew because those who fled there chose to live under British rule. Chinese society was deeply corrupt (and weak) long before the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. That weakness was why the British government was able to force the territorial concessions that yielded Hong Kong itself. The British didn’t impose the rule of law on an unwilling population that suffered from a lack of law. Instead, they imposed the rule of law on a willing populated that suffered from a lack of law.

Interestingly, the bifurcation of Gaza into north and south would enable a similar sort of external imposition. So long as Israel and her partners make absolutely clear that the medium-term goal is the establishment of a rule of law society ruled by external forces, at least in the medium term, then the population will be self-selecting. The population, by and large, will be willing. This doesn’t mean compliance will be universal. In 1967, Hong Kong faced extensive Communist-backed riots. Those riots, which included small attempts at invasion by Chinese paramilitary forces and the placement of 8,000 home-made bombs (of which 1,100 were real), represented a full-on attempt to overthrow British control in the name of fighting fascism. However, the mass of the local population – including ethnic Chinese members of the police forces – did not heed the call to arms. They had come to Hong Kong as a rejection of the Chinese Communist Party, and they maintained that position. The Hong Kong government’s response was brutal, including the beating to death of multiple suspected revolutionaries after their arrest.

The self-selecting nature of the population enabled the Hong Kong experiment to work. Given this, the very first order of business in Northern Gaza is to largely populate it with those who willing volunteer to be a part of a foreign-controlled entity seeking to establish the rule of law. There is a population already there, but their numbers should be overwhelmed by others – those seeking a new beginning.

It must be noted that a willing population is not the same thing as a democracy. The British created a largely free society in which the local population lacked many political freedoms. Singapore has done the same thing – it has a limited democratic reality. While Korea and Taiwan are today flourishing democracies, they weren’t built as democracies. They transitioned to democracy after the establishment of a civil society under autocratic rule. The U.S. eagerness to establish democracy – instead of the rule of law – has been partially responsible for their recent failures. When democracy yields a fundamentally illiberal government (as it did with Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections) the result is not a free society, but one man, one vote, one time.

Existing Society

The second critical factor to consider is the nature of the existing society. Palestinian society is largely religious, almost definitionally anti-Israel, and made up several distinct components. For example, pre-48 Gazan clans are distinct group from post-48 displaced populations. Obviously, there are very few effective governing institutions and Hamas worked – quite successfully – on undermining those that did exist.

All of this is relevant because an effort to reshape the society must minimize how much reshaping it is trying to accomplish. A failure to do this, for legal or other reasons, can fundamentally undermine reshaping efforts. For example, the US was unable to work directly with religion in combating ISIS. The US could ally itself with various religious authorities but couldn’t seek to deliver a religious message or platform of its own much less control the religious messages of others. The inability to do this was a handicap. For this reason, it would be critical to invest the UAE – as a potential partner – with religious oversight. This would mean the UAE would have a hand in education as well as being able to guide and limit religious education and communication in mosques and other environments. Such state-controlled religious messages are not unusual in the Arab and Muslim worlds, but they would be anathema to a US administration.

In terms of social structure, preservation isn’t really an option. Institutions like clans would need to be swept aside. Not only have the Gaza clans been consistently at war with Israel, but many of them were basically family-based criminal organizations that made a business of taking advantage of Gazan refugees. Hamas also made a point of destroying the most prominent clans in Gaza. As a result they tend to be both criminal and weak. This is in contrast to some West Bank clans which can serve a very positive role and are more firmly embedded in society.

Even if the clans were to be resurrected, they would not be partners in peace and the establishment of the rule of law. Existing clan structures might be seen as a shortcut to order, but they are almost inherently extra-legal and they were sources of significant discrimination. Rather than being a shortcut, they are more likely to be a roadblock. Already, there is talk of trying to work with the clans – as a non-Hamas power structure – but this concept should be strangled in its crib.

Finally, the almost definitionally anti-Israel makeup of the society would make it critical that the governance of northern Gaza not simply be an Israeli project. International partners, including the UAE, Taiwan, Singapore and even Rwanda, would be ideal. This would not only provide social, cultural, and even psychological cover for families’ participation in the project it would provide much needed insight, experience and guidance.

It must be noted that Singapore, due to local threats, may not be able to fully participate. Nonetheless, Singaporian academics could provide key guidance on establishing a society almost entirely free of corruption that limits sectarian resentment and violence while making citizens into stakeholders.

Local Control

Initially, the local population would be given only low-level local control. You can almost imagine the biblical judges of 10 deciding civil matters or managing issues within apartment blocks. Over time, and with clear metrics, local responsibility would rise. Eventually, a local democratic system could be established. This process should be laid out, with clear milestones and checkpoints, from as early on as possible. Clear communication about expectations and behaviors – as well as rewards and consequences for achieving civic growth – would enable those who choose to join the project to understand what they are trying to achieve and how. It would also minimize local distrust and resentment of occupation authorities – no matter what country they hail from.

What Now

If a society with the rule of law, capable of peace with its neighbors, is the goal then the coming days and weeks are critical. The following concrete actions should occur:

  • Israel should define the borders of Northern Gaza.
  • Israel should establish public relationships with the small states and city states that would support this process. In case you believe Israel is anathema consider that Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim-majority country – announced yesterday that it is planning to normalize relations with Israel.
  • A committee of governance, with membership selected by the involved governments and academic institutions, should convene to create an initial plan for the development of North Gaza. This plan should include not only the building of infrastructure, housing, farming and industry, but long-term plans through which the local population can take ownership of these resources. Singapore provides an excellent example of how to accomplish this.
  • The United States and other countries should announce that they will not intervene in the project even though it will not be democratic or free in its early stages.
  • The United States and other countries should announce that they will enable free trade with the project – enabling it to have a functioning and potentially flourishing economy.

On a personal level, I would love to be involved in such a project. I wrote The City on the Heights as a fictional attempt to come to grasps with such a city and the challenges it would face.

The world is in need of innovative approaches to taxation, healthcare, welfare, education and more. A North Gaza city state, freed from existing structures, could ultimately provide leadership not only to illiberal Arab and Muslims nations from Syria to Sudan and from Iran to Algeria, but to the far broader world.

The world is living in the seemingly ever-increasing shadow of the power-seeking Greater X countries and movements. Without a comparable champion of freedom and the rule of law, we face a grave threat. A new Greater Y city state – as a demonstration of what any population can achieve – would serve as an impactful and effective counterpoint to the rise of illiberalism, empire-building and ideological totalitarianism. There is a reason China crushed Hong Kong and is seeking to do the same to Taiwan.

For Israel itself, the brightest future may lay in demonstrating to Palestinians themselves that their story can be better – and far more fulfilling – than the future of vengeance, violence and corruption promised by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Time is short, but Israel now has the opportunity to establish a model city in North Gaza. If Israel acts to establish such a reality, the allies of freedom should embrace and encourage the project. It may serve not only as a model city for Palestinians, but for Arabs, for Israelis and for the world as a whole. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *